About 500 fishermen and boat operators at Gerenge Landing Site in Katabi Town Council are living in fear of eviction by Arthur Mujuni, a private developer whom they accuse of degrading Lake Victoria.
Geoffrey Kavuma, the chairperson of the boat operators at Gerenge landing site, says that Mujuni has been chasing boat operators and fishermen from the landing site for the last two weeks claiming that he has a land title that includes part of the lake.
According to Kawuma, in 2020 the water levels in Lake Victoria rose and submerged the lakeshores and close to 50 meters of Mujuni’s land. He, however, says that the water levels oscillate from time to time and the boat operators have to adjust where to dock, much to the annoyance of Mujuni who now plans to seal off “his land” including the 200-meter buffer zone.
“Mujuni claims that the lake swallowed almost an acre of his land and has been using sticks and plants to re-demarcate up to inside the lake,” Kawuma said. He explains that the strong waves uprooted the sticks and plants Mujuni placed at the shoreline and inside the lake.
He, however, says that a small line of the materials has remained since they were planted on land. Other boat operators and fishermen led by Reagan Kabuubi, Ssalongo Mutesa Galiwango, and Goretti Nakito, say that Mujuni has been deploying police and soldiers at the landing site to oppress them.
“Whenever the security people are here, they beat whoever they find at the landing site. They also capture whichever animal like a cow, goat, or chicken crosses onto his land and never return it to the owners. Their owners are even arrested sometimes on allegations of trespass just like four boat operators who spent two weeks at Mpala Police Post because they were at the landing site,” Mutesa said.
Nakito says that the only solution to the conflict between Mujuni and the fishing community at the landing site is for the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA to stop him from making developments within the 200-meter buffer zone without permission.
Ivan Rugumayo, the Secretary of the Bulega village Local Council, says the village and town Council leaders including the Chairperson Ronald Kalema have been engaging Mujuni over the matter in vain.
Rugumayo says Mujuni bought the land in 2019 from businessman Aga Ssekalala Senior, the proprietor of UgaChick Poultry Breeders. Ssekalala has ventured into different businesses including poulty feeds, fish feeds, fish farming, and vanilla, and never had any conflicts with the fishing community, according to Rugumayo.
Mutesa, Nakito, and Kawuma say Mujuni should stop oppressing them, or else he will incite the fishing community to retaliate because their source of livelihood is at stake.
But Mujuni accuses the fishermen and boat operators of trespassing on his land, which he claims covers part of the lake. Section 53 of the National Environment Act, 2019 provides for the protection of river banks, lakeshores, and natural beaches.
The Riverbanks and lakeshore use regulations, 2020 particularly provide a buffer zone of 100 meters and 200 meters for water bodies where no human activity is allowed. On Saturday, our reporter found Mujuni at his gate with truck drivers who had ferried sand to his site.
When asked about his relationship with the fishing community at the landing site, Mujuni said they are in the wrong and must vacate soon because he wants to develop his 9-acre-piece of land.
He explained that he was not encroaching on the lake, but rather reclaiming the one acre that was submerged in 2020. When asked whether he is aware that he has to leave a buffer zone of 200 meters, Mujuni said no one at the landing site, including the police post is compliant.
Mujuni then led our reporter to Gerenge Police post. But at the police post, he was greeted with a complaint from one of his neighbors over land grabbing. He abandoned the idea of showing the reporter that the police post is also within the buffer zone.
Officers at the police post told Journalists that they have so far registered three complaints of land grabbing against Mujuni this year and that he has a poor working relationship with the local community. They agree with the boat operators and fishermen on the need for NEMA to intervene before tensions escalate further.
Tony Acidria, a Communications Officer at NEMA, says the authority will look into the matter. “But the developer must know that when the lake submerges your land, it takes precedent and it is taken as part of the lake. So the developer must know that he or she must maintain the buffer zone and new lake boundaries,” Acidria says.
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